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What is Coxsackievirus?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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Coxsackievirus is a pathogen that is highly contagious and infectious to humans, especially in infants, young children, and people with weakened immune systems. There are at least 24 different strains of Coxsackievirus, each of which can cause particular symptoms and health complications. Most infections are relatively mild and may cause fever, sore throat, and flu-like symptoms. It is possible, however, for a virus to result in severe organ damage or muscle paralysis. Antiviral medications are largely ineffective at curing infections, and supportive treatment decisions are made based on the nature of symptoms.

Most doctors classify strains of Coxsackievirus into two distinct groups. Group A includes those strains that are capable of affecting the throat, mouth, and muscles. Group B pathogens tend to impair organ functioning. Members of both groups are transmitted from person-to-person via the fecal-oral route, which means that food or water that is contaminated with waste can introduce the virus to the digestive tract. There is also evidence that pathogens can become airborne and inhaled into the lungs.

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The most common type of Coxsackievirus infection is a group A pathogen called hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). Young children and people who live in unsanitary conditions are at the highest risk of acquiring HFMD. Once the virus enters the digestive tract, it begins to replicate itself and spread throughout the body. Symptoms may include fever, headache, painful skin rashes, and open sores in the mouth. In the most severe cases, HFMD and other group A infections can lead to muscle paralysis and neurological symptoms similar to those caused by polio.

Group B Coxsackieviruses typically cause less serious symptoms than those in group A, though some infections can become deadly if they are not treated. Pathogens tend to infiltrate the lining of different organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain. A person may experience shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing that worsen over the course of about one week and then spontaneously resolve. If the heart is affected, a person may experience high blood pressure and chest pains. Brain infections can lead to chronic headaches, confusion, and possibly stroke or coma.

Doctors have not discovered a reliable cure for Coxsackievirus. If blood tests and physical exams reveal infection, a patient is typically given anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers to help ease symptoms. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to prevent open lesions from becoming infected with bacteria. Rarely, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the brain or heart. With treatment, most people experience full recoveries from their symptoms within about one month.

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